Even though this article is about me and my experiences, it is meant to instill confidence in people trying to do something special with their lives and going through hard times to accomplish it.
“Until you’ve done something for humanity you should be ashamed to die.” — Horace Mann
A subject many songs have been written about. It is hard to persevere amidst overwhelming and sometimes debilitating mediocrity, especially when such mediocrity is put on the pedestal of populism. So here are some of my blues.
I face a lot of controversy and criticism in my life. Not because I seek it, but because I challenge stale yet popular conventions to which many people have hitched their formidable wagons. Impressive careers and fortunes have been built around selling snake oil to greater-fools, with the purchasers comatose in a Stockholm syndrome applauding their captors and hoping to get some scraps thrown their way.
“The more real you get the more unreal the world becomes.” — John Lennon
The more you investigate how the world we created around ourselves really works and carefully analyze the systems we have built to manage ourselves, the more you realize how humanity does not deserve to be called the most intelligent animal on the planet. On our current trajectory, the animal with the most cognitive neurons in its cerebral cortex is bound to live the shortest of all major species.
Go figure, you smarty.
The Shape of Me
I have always questioned norms that did not make sense to me, from the age of seven, as I recall hearing my Mad-Men father proclaim truths that were narrow-minded dogmas. I can still take you to the house, the room, and the place where I sat on the ground where that realization first dawned on me. My unwillingness to subjugate to him got me into trouble numerous times, and the relationship with my father deteriorated from avoidance into nonexistence.
I blossomed once I escaped from my father’s loveless spell, shortly after he threw me to the curb at 18 years of age with no money (he later – unprompted – admitted I cost him the least of his three sons). I never blamed him for his stance; he was a product of his time and his upbringing, as so accurately depicted by the Mad-Men TV show. Unwillingly, it honed my skills to survive. I hold no grudge, just explaining how negative experiences in your life can either make or break you. The choice is yours.
I did better than survive and benefitted from the capacity to see the world differently. I built a handsome career in the technology business (my father still attempted to steer me away from it). Eventually, I created a few successful startups even my friends, attached to the norms of big company complacency, thought were worthless. Not so when they sold for over $100 million a few years later. More lessons learned about how the safety of the norm is invariable wrong and deceiving.
My mind is my blessing and my curse.
My satisfaction never came from cashing large checks on occasion. I masochistically enjoyed the chase more than the catch. I began to feel bad realizing so many people in this country, including some just over one mile away, were barely scraping by. I never could think of buying anything substantial to make me happy and instead wondered why I deserved that money to begin with. I spent most of it on having life-shaping experiences, not buying things, which included investing in my journey to do something meaningful with my life.
I can be difficult for those who live extended college life or as driftwood floating downstream. Despite not getting much compassion for my plight, from anybody really, I have always had plenty for others, to a fault at times. Perhaps I felt guilty for not being “normal” and unable to bow down to norms that could not withstand my scrutiny.
As Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman explained, I want to know what the duck does beyond its name in every language known to man, that kind of curiosity not shared by everyone.
I will not be nice to waiters in a restaurant who do a shitty job, no matter how many people tell me to be kind. I cannot stand people who are not good at what they do or won’t even try. It’s a deceit to themselves and me, in this case, as the guest of hospitality. The flip side is I am very kind, respectful, and in awe of people who are genuinely good at what they do, no matter their skill, and I become eager to hear about the hurdles they overcame in life that shaped them.
Respect is earned, not given, both ways.
Challenge Mastery, Including Your Own
Hurdles are aplenty when you challenge conventions and foregone conclusions no one dares to bring up. Just imagine what happens when you visit senators in Washington, D.C., and ask them the following question: please, tell me your definition of freedom?
How can you enable or protect freedom if you do not define it first, was the simple yet most pivotal question about the Constitution I had to ask. The answers were astoundingly frazzled, discombobulated, and evasive, if forthcoming at all. The look of a deer caught in the headlights was the look on many faces of legislators who beholden to many references of liberty (or freedom) in the U.S. Constitution are supposed to enact legislation to protect and expand those freedoms.
Questioning foregone conclusions does not make many friends, no matter how you ask the question. The problem is not with the person asking the question and shining a light on the street in the analogy above, but with the deer unable to respond. You make people feel very insecure by catching them in a lie, which depends on their livelihood or even existence.
I have caught many people in lies; you get good at learning and observing from age seven. Many are signaled inadvertently. Connecting the dots of non-verbal cues is paramount. Dangerous myths turned prosperous religions have a damaging impact on society since they affect the contributions, wherewithal, and future of many people who joined the fray after, believing those lies wholeheartedly to be true.
“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free” — Goethe
Just imagine the impact on all those people who think they are free and are, in actuality, enslaved by money that trickle-feeds their freedom. Not in the least because our government leaders do not even know how to define freedom, have no consensus on liberty, let alone can build societal systems to enable and protect freedom.
Journey Towards Root-cause
Entrepreneurs are held hostage by a system of innovation arbitrage in violation of the most fundamental principles of freedom with its arbiters unable to detect foresight and in cahoots with each other, the collusion of venture capital systemically incompatible with finding outliers of innovation. Venture capital has turned subprime, and I was the first to correlate the outcome of a laissez-faire financial arbitrage with the real-estate sector years earlier. Over time, the notion that all financial systems suffer the same fate dawned on me as I investigated others.
I went to look for answers from institutional investors allocating money to venture capital and asked them why they allowed venture capitalists to collude. The answer pointed to the cascading effects of financial grandfathering. Indeed, asset owners and asset managers collude in a complex critical path, ten levels deep with bottom-heavy diversification through which no consistent outlier returns can be produced. And thus, they allowed their child, venture capital, to do the same.
Asset managers deploy outdated asset allocation strategies based on the type of distribution correlated to an index of self, not based on the unique risk incurred by the asset. Asset managers are faced with deplorable returns – compared to the gaping marketplace opportunities – derived from the very collusion they hitched their wagon on. Subsequently, asset managers now resort to the advice from macroeconomists no one else is privy to, pun intended.
I subsequently investigated the study of economics and concluded that it is utter voodoo science. Consistently confounding consequence with cause as the depravity of reason lies at the ill-formed foundation of measuring and attempting to forecast human performance. I cannot think of a more incredible scam than hordes of economists trying to predict the future, uncorrelated to evolutionary principles, from the extrapolation of an ever-narrowing wake of the past. That is the reason why economists have never been able to predict anything but the time twice a day.
Further up the chain of command, I went to talk to Congress. I noticed beyond a few other salient observations how the fundamental precepts of our Constitution had been left undefined. No obligations are attached to the protection of freedom we are supposed to enjoy. And how a Constitution only evolving downstream, through amendments, leaves no room for upstream refinement, redefinition, and reclassification by which downstream implementation would become more effective. The U.S. Constitution is like an Emmental cheese with a few too many holes to be called cheese anymore.
For a moment, I want you to pause, breathe, and ponder the chain of observations above and take them seriously.
You, too, must conclude that the complete value chain of policy, capital, and innovation in the United States is supposed to expand the fractal of human ingenuity is held hostage by manufactured oligarchic controls unable to adjust to the ever-changing evolutionary needs of humanity.
And why then are we surprised the outcome of those systems is not delivering the regenerative performance we all expect?
The importance of chasing the critical path upwards to the normalization of truth we all adhere to is to verify its accuracy, relevance, and ultimate validity. Not because those systems and practices were necessarily conceived with malicious intent but because we must ascertain whether the systems we build to expand the fractal of humanity are at all times the best systems we can conjure up.
They are not.
This process of searching for the root cause of things is innate to an entrepreneur whose groundbreaking invention relies on a new normalization of truth that renders the ever-complicating downstream evolution of the past unnecessary. Outliers, people who expand the fringe of human ingenuity, rely on an unprecedented normalization of truth from which new efficiencies to strengthen humanity can be derived.
The health of a self-modulating society is measured by the ability to question the people waving their wand over the dogmas from the past. We cannot accept self-aggrandizing authoritarians to hold human progress hostage. As an entrepreneur of any kind, you must be prepared to make enemies, enemies to those who desperately hold on to the vestiges of unchange.
Enemies Of The Sport
The process of inducing real change is similar to how I built my first startup. Nobody wanted to listen to our story. No industry analyst wanted to talk to us or put us on the map, and no conference wished for us to speak. Nobody was home until we sold our first product for close to a quarter of a million dollars. The world is full of lemmings, and they all flipped. Thankfully, I have the persistence of a courthouse mule.
“Everyone has a plan – till they get punched in the face.” — Mike Tyson
I made quite a few enemies in the process of discovery and challenging unacceptable norms, with enemies appearing from the weirdest places, when and where you least expect them. If you do not make enemies, your normalization of truth is not good enough. Even from your inner circle, so be prepared. You are on your own, for it is lonely at the top of a normalization that has no precedent, by its very definition.
You will also make some new friends. First, you will want to lose a bunch of hangers-on as they are cunning enough to detect another slipstream to latch their future on. And later, some more thoughtful friends who understand you are serious about improving the world we live in and who step forward to assist in making valuable connections to induce change. Be wary of imposters trying to steal your thunder.
Be very, very patient.
The desperation of people trying to keep the upper hand while running short on well-thought-out arguments is often outright amusing. Their hollow defense invariably turned into a desperate attempt to attack your character. Go ahead; I have thick skin.
I use the following phrase frequently:
“You lack of arguments is extremely compelling.” — Georges van Hoegaerden
To give you a flavor, here are a few encounters I have dealt with in this process:
- I had an exchange with a very prominent financier of one of the largest banks in the world, who, short of having great answers as to why our financial systems are adversely affecting humanity, suddenly wondered if I have a mental disease because I am awake and responding to messages at 5 am. No sir, I run the beach every day at sunrise to keep myself in shape.
- I had an exchange with a leader of a large economics institution tasked to reinvent economics grill me by phone, loving my work, inviting me to his conference, and then disappearing on me. A not invented here syndrome? They will be back one day.
- I had an exchange with an advisor to one of the largest pension funds in the world, asking if we could meet at a conference. I told him I only show up when someone pays me; I have done enough investing in the mess I did not create.
- I had a face-to-face talk with one of the founding fathers of venture capital in Silicon Valley, asking me what really ails venture capital, and what to do about it. The emperor wears no clothes; you can hire me to dress you up.
- I had an engaging conversation with a board member of a very large pension fund, to be followed up by his replacement, who subsequently went off the radar. The urgency of change is palpable in a public pension fund that can barely make its numbers work.
- I had an exchange with a verified VIP on a social network who wanted to use my operating-system for humanity as the platform for his political aspirations. Only to pull back angrily when his attempt at a bait-and-switch met my harsh condemnation.
- I had an exchange with an experienced chief investment officer, with over twenty years in the investment allocation business, depicting the asset management business as the biggest scam in the world. Only to take another job in it three months later.
- I had exchanges with a few academic economists who wanted me to join them on stage, cleverly obfuscating they tried to use my reputation to promote their work – not mine. No me gusta.
- I had an Ivy League university ask me to come on stage at a conference, only for one of the sponsors to consider the subject too disruptive.
- I had an exchange with a conference organizer who loved my work, even though he had been promoting the opposite. Only to bail out from having me on stage because, after 25 years, he is still not making enough money to pay my cost. Who are these leeches of populism?
- I had a professor from a well-known university in California teaching finance ask me if they could use my presentation in their classes. Yes, you can, but only when I am there to present it. Plagiarism runs wild in institutions caught with their pants down.
- I had an exchange with the organizer of a newly minted transparency taskforce in finance invite me to talk in three different locations, only to disclose at the last minute it was a workshop I had to pay for. So much for transparency.
- I had a friend chastise me repeatedly for precisely the character traits that made me cut through the noise leading to my success in the past. Your lack of confidence in me cannot continue to affect mine. Alas. Goodbye Felicia.
Rejection Is A Prerequisite
As an entrepreneur, you must be prepared to crawl through this kind of mud to emerge on the other side. Granted, it is not easy for people who are not trained to deal with controversy (from a young age, as I explained) and lose faith from the rejection above. We cannot blame the delicate flowers; they are who they are. Nor can we blame the people who did the rejecting. They too are who they are. That is the beauty of relative plurality. You leave many people where you found them; they are lemmings in disguise after all.
Einstein’s theory of relativity, upon which the theory of my new operating-system for humanity is based, was rejected for fourteen years after he has been denied at almost every university. Only one person believed he was worth listening to, a person perhaps as crucial as Einstein himself in promulgating a theory that improved our understanding of everything in nature. So, the laws of numbers do not favor the entrepreneur who is trying to break through a glass ceiling, nor should one seek the immediate approval of the populous so used to that specific ceiling.
The problem, here again, is with the deer, not with the person shining the headlights. Humanity as a whole is negatively affected by manmade systems fundamentally incompatible with the nature of humans. I can make that clear every which way to Sunday. But whether you understand that concept depends on your ability to challenge yourself and seek to correct outdated and foregone conclusions. I am not responsible for expanding your proximal development; you are. But I am happy to answer your questions.
This problem with our dysfunctional systems is not my problem; it is humanity’s problem I just happened to have an answer for. I suggest you pay attention for the sake of our offspring because unaddressed the failure of our systems will do us in.
After our conversation, the handyman at my house concludes that we do not have enough critical thinkers in this country. Hence, my inspiration often comes from strangers—a fourteen-year-old kid from the middle-east who astutely wonders why we built the systems we did. And the family dining on a deck near the beach, who intrigued by what mobile phone app I used to locate stars in the sky, subsequently became enthralled by the foundational precepts of everything in policy, capital, and innovation we ended up talking about — walking away in awe, bowing down, shaking my hand twice, clearly on fire by who they just met.
You have a soul, my friend
They parted, saying.
I bet you have a soul you can make shine too if you attempt to live as close to nature’s truth as possible. You may find yourself out in the fringe, all alone with no precedent for people to derive their comfort from. But when you emerge at the fringe for a good reason, believe in yourself, even if no one else does, and the world crumbles around you. Because before you know it, you may have to give it all back and you’ll be sorry you never gave it your all.
There is no plan B in life, except for people prepared to sell their souls.
I will not.